Incandescence – Greg Egan

Incandescence is very dry, overly technical, and a lot of the physics is frankly over my head… all in all a nearly perfect book! 
In this universe life in the Milky Way evolved from chemistry on eleven separate occasions. These replicators, or at least their precursors, ricocheted around the galaxy. Meteor impacts, stellar tress pas, tidal disruption, and supernova propelled shrapnel, all serving to mix and scatter life across thousands of worlds. The Amalgam is the resultant climax civilisation descended from the eleven unique Panspermia roots. The Aloof are a mysterious civilisation sitting at the bottom of the gravity-well in the chaotic bulge that surrounds the galaxy’s central colossal black hole. 

There are two explicit narrative threads. One dealing with life in the hospitable placid galactic disk. The other within the perilous bulge. There is also a powerful subtext which seems ask “what is the point?”. What is the point of a life removed from the existential dangers we evolved alongside? When we can adopt arbitrary physical forms and psychological drives and perspectives? A solution proposed to avoid the morbid navel gazing, is for the bulk of a society to be individuals happy to exist in a sheep like state; time passing in a routine of work, gossip and sex. Only a small percentage need to entertain lofty thoughts or be capable of general intelligence. These individuals give society/species hope when faced with novel situations that endanger survival. Yet in times of peace and safety their life is lonely and futile – subversive stuff.
The two threads only meet in the sense that they are linked by the themes of safety and boredom.
We do find out who the Aloof are though.

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